Dont Fault Kyle Busch for Going for the Win
You want to see drivers mix it up don't you? You hate when they finish 4th and talk about "having a good points day." You complain about boring racing and drivers not trying hard enough. Yet you have a problem with Kyle Busch's tactics going for the win in Saturday's Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Both drivers ended up on the losing end of that lap 335 contact, which has certainly divided opinions in racing circles. Busch's move was no doubt a desperate one. He had the race in the bag, having led 265 laps and lapping all but the top 10. This should have been his 3rd win of the season, which would have put him tops among his Sprint Cup peers. It should have been his 8th-career Nationwide Series-Sprint Cup weekend sweep. But several late cautions kept bringing the field to his rear door step. Busch shook loose from Jimmie Johnson, who had caught him for the lead late in the race. He kept speedy teammate Matt Kenseth at bay. Jeff Gordon led 16 laps around the halfway mark of the race, but Busch got the lead back. The race was his - his. Just as it was the night before, when he led all but 40 laps. The lap 332 restart finally proved his match.
Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Chevy had been strong all night and got a run to Busch's outside on that start. Busch tried everything to stay even with him, seeing the prized Darlington trophy slipping away. So after trying several times to clear Kahne, Busch dived hard into Turn 1 - too hard. The No. 18 Wrigley's Doublemint Toyota slid up the hill and appeared to hit Kahne's left-rear quarter panel. Already next to the wall and running on the fast, ragged edge, the Time-Warner Cable Chevy stepped out and made hard contact with The Lady in Black's vintage red and white wall. Busch reclaimed the lead, Kahne pretty much stopped on the track, the yellow flew, and Kahne's chance at winning was gone. The replays seemed to show that Busch did not actually hit Kahne - that maybe the air he pushed was enough to knock Kahne loose. Regardless, his over-driving the corner took Kahne out of contention, which is an automatic loss in the court of public opinion, when the aggressor is a fan villain like Busch and the victim is popular like Kahne. The final restart on lap 338 sealed Busch's fate, as Kenseth ended up passing him 16 laps after the green flag. Busch's car got extremely tight and had a slow leak in the right-front tire at the end. He finished 6th. Kenseth, instead, took his 3rd win of the season, and Kahne was not exactly pleased.
For those with goldfish-like memories, Busch got into Kahne at Talladega and caused a big wreck early in the race. The two made contact at Daytona as well. Those are racing deals, as they say. But Kahne obviously had enough, especially as he nearly had his first Darlington win in hand. He never confronted Busch, but one can bet he won't give him much room anytime soon. Kahne complained that Busch should not have over-driven the corner - that he should have expected to possibly wreck him if he made that move. Kahne should feel that way. He lost. And he has been on the wrong end of Busch's mistakes three times in this early season. A racer friend of mine told me recently that he goes by the "three strikes and you're out" rule with other drivers. Kahne has every reason to return the favor to Busch sometime soon, though he says he doesn't plan to wreck him.
But fans and commentators should not fault Busch on going for the win. That is what they want to see, right? This doesn't mean that drivers should over-shoot every corner for every position or wreck each other all the time. But it does mean that drivers should take risks like Busch did - risks that they disagree about. The saltiness that today's racing often lacks is the idea that contact is okay sometimes, especially between the lead drivers with less than 30 laps to go in NASCAR's oldest crown jewel races at one of its grittiest, gnarliest, most difficult tracks.
The boo birds will drop M&M-colored excrement on Busch's shoulders at Charlotte and that's fine, too. But consider how you would feel if that was your driver going for the win Saturday night. You probably would want them to make the same move, save wrecking who they were trying to pass. Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough fans still disagree about who should have given and taken at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500. It ended up one of NASCAR's greatest finishes. And the late race drama at Darlington turned a Saturday night sponsor parade into a bullring battle. There were worn out drivers, hurt feelings, disgust, a few tempers, and a winning driver (Kenseth) who said this his Southern 500 was the biggest win of his storied career. That's racin'.